I was talking to a neighbor the other day about strength. Specifically, we were talking about doing manual labor and the sort of strength and endurance that’s necessary for those sorts of activities. He told me about his sons who work out at the gym all the time, but fade quickly when they have to help build a deck or a garage or do some other sort of hard, physical work. I shared with him the story of rebuilding my deck and my hamstrings, which took several days to heal enough that I could really walk. And it was in this conversation that I started to think about coding and analytics and all the other things that I’m working on learning more about.

It’s all about functional strength. I think I’m a pretty strong guy, particularly in my legs, so why did one day of carpentry make me immobile? Functional strength. I was doing things with me muscles I hadn’t done before. I was using them in ways that they and I were not used to. And the result was that they checked out and left me lying on the couch.

Wayne Gretzky is one of the best hockey players in the history of the sport. Most consider him the very best ever. But Wayne Gretzky was, at best, a terrible hockey coach. Why? Simple. He’d never had to work at it. I mean, I’m not saying he didn’t work hard, but he didn’t know how to play hockey if you weren’t the best. “Did you try being awesome? That’s what I did. Worked out real well.” Wayne Gretzky didn’t have functional coaching abilities. He was great at the game. But he couldn’t put that into words that would make others better.

It’s one thing to understand HTML. It’s another thing to put it to use. When I first started learning code, it was very linear. “Here’s the first thing you should know about HTML…followed by the second…and the third…etc.” And that’s great. But when someone says, “build a page that does X”, that sort of rote memorization does very little. Instead, good courses focus on your functional coding abilities. “Ok, smarty pants, build a site.”

Functional.

There’s this guy I know. Let’s call him John. John is a math GENIUS. Like…genius. Understands how to solve equations in mathematics that I didn’t even know existed. Genius. Can’t teach anybody SHIT. Why? He’s never had to learn it, so he doesn’t know how you would do it. He’s the Wayne Gretzky of math. “Have you tried being awesome.”

One time in high school I went to visit some friends in my hometown. Now, in high school I was the captain of our provincial champion football team so I thought I was a pretty big deal. I dropped into their gym to lift with them, threw on a bunch of weight and started hammering out some bench presses. I finished, looking just great, and the next guy waiting walked up to the bench. He was sleight, probably four inches shorter than me and a solid 75lbs lighter. I asked him if he wanted help changing the weight and he said no, he could do it himself. He added almost double what I was lifting and just crushed a set.

When I asked my friends who that ridiculous kid was that could lift like that, they told me his name was Eddie. Eddie worked on a farm and his job was to throw bales of hay around like they were rolls of toilet paper. Eddie was stronger than I would ever hope to be.

Functional.

Don’t be good at something, in a bubble, without any context. Use the skills you have to DO something impressive. The mark of a good writer is that they SHOW you what a character is thinking rather than TELLING you what a character is thinking. It’s functional. Don’t TELL people you’re smart/strong/fast/reliable/creative, SHOW people that you’re smart/strong/fast/reliable/creative.

And remember, if all else fails, just be awesome at it. What could possibly go wrong?